State officials say there has been a surge in the number of hepatitis cases in North Carolina, and they’re urging people to take steps to avoid contracting the viral disease.
Hepatitis A, B and C are distinct diseases that cause inflammation of the liver and may lead to serious problems such as liver failure and liver cancer. Hepatitis B and C are most commonly spread through the sharing of needles or other injection equipment, allowing blood from an infected person to enter the body. Hepatitis B, and less often hepatitis C, also can be spread through sex with an infected person.
There were 172 new cases of hepatitis B and 186 new cases of hepatitis C reported in North Carolina last year, up from 110 new cases for each type in 2014, according to the state Division of Public Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the actual number of infections is likely seven times higher than the number of reported cases of hepatitis B and 14 times higher for hepatitis C. Many people do not experience symptoms and may not know they are infected.
State officials say an estimated 110,000 to 150,000 North Carolinians have a chronic hepatitis C infection, and 25,000 to 66,000 have a chronic hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis C has been on the rise in North Carolina since 2009, in conjunction with the increase in the use of heroin and other injected opioid drugs. Preventing the sharing of needles is one of the main strategies for curbing the spread of hepatitis. People can also get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
State officials also say people born between 1945 and 1965 are more likely to have hepatitis C and should get tested.
For more information on hepatitis, go to epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/diseases/hepatitis.html.